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5 ways your extra-curriculars can help you get a job

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As a teenager, I was a dancer. I danced all year round and doubled up in the autumn, swimming on my school’s swim team. I did my mandatory volunteer service at the local library, shelving books and participating in the early childhood literacy programs. I was a lifeguard during the summers and volunteered with a local HIV/AIDS prevention programme for youth.

Then I decided to study journalism, and while all of my extracurricular activities were valuable and character shaping activities, they had nothing to do with my chosen course of study. If I had been on the debate team or school paper, it would have been simple to draw correlations between my activities and their relevance to my studies. Unfortunately, the things I loved to do with my spare time were very different from what I found professionally fulfilling. While applying for grants, scholarships, and internships, I was faced with the dilemma of trying to translate my seemingly unrelated experience to my chosen profession.

So, what do you do when your passion and your profession don’t align in an obvious way? Here are five tips to translating your extracurricular activities into relevant experiences.

All of your volunteer work and activities are relevant. Each one of them has contributed to your character, technical ability, social skills and mental dexterity. Don’t omit or discount any of your pet projects or volunteer work simply because you can’t see how they relate to your subject of study.

Understand what your audience is looking for in an ideal applicant. While extracurricular activities that directly correspond to your chosen profession are beneficial, many recruiters prefer candidates that are well rounded. They want to see that you have time management skills, leadership ability, communication skills and the ability to work as a team.  Keep this in mind as you review your volunteer and extracurricular experiences. How has each of these activities helped you to develop in these areas?

Letters of recommendation help. In my case, I had a wealth of people who had worked with me consistently over time who were willing to write letters detailing how I contributed to the programme, helped to boost morale, showed leadership and had an inquisitive mind. Their experience with me made them comfortable recommending me to others. Letters of recommendation are not necessary for all situations, but can be beneficial when convincing a recruiter to take a chance on you, especially if you have little or no directly relevant experience.

Awards matter. Superlative work in any field takes drive and dedication. Whether it was a tennis championship or an award for young activists, your sweat equity and determination show that you not only deliver but go above and beyond the call of duty. That kind of drive is attractive to recruiters.

Projects are case studies. Did you help produce the school play? Did you organise a petition? Did you set up a social media campaign to raise awareness about an issue? All of these count as projects and provide great case studies that demonstrate how you react to real world challenges. Finding an appropriate place to mention them in your interviewing process helps to give recruiters a genuine idea of what your strengths and motivations are.

So, don’t worry if 12 years of playing the tuba seem to have no relevance to your dreams of becoming an astrophysicist. Pursue your passions, volunteer your time, and explore new cultures. What you will learn will make you a better you, and a stronger applicant overall.

By Jameka Neil at Alexander Partners

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